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Trade Counting Sheep for Counting Breaths to Fall Asleep

Oct 31, 2019 ● By Briana Bragg
by Briana Bragg

Worldwide studies suggest that up to 50 percent of the world’s population suffers from a form of insomnia, while lost productivity related to insomnia costs to the U.S. economy are $63 billion a year. The most common reason for not being able to fall sleep is due to stress. However, there are other situations that prevent people from being able to sleep, as well. Studies show about 3 percent of reported insomnia cases are due to medical or psychiatric conditions.

As evening falls and the house begins to quiet, it’s the perfect recipe for a wandering mind. Throughout the day, we are busy with life, responsibilities, career, family, etc., but as day turns to night, lying in bed is the time to allow our body to relax into slumber; yet for many of us, our mind begins to review the day, the forgotten tasks, the lists for tomorrow, the bills due and so on.

Determining if insomnia is a medical condition or stress-related is an important factor in knowing how to treat sleeplessness. There are two types of insomnia—primary and secondary. Primary problems with sleep are not related to health issues, while secondary problems are directly related to health conditions, and medical advice and treatment is available and should be discussed with a doctor.

However, if sleeplessness is related to stress and a wandering mind, alternative techniques are available that do not require medical advice or medication. Notice while lying in bed at night if you are simply not sleepy and restless, or if it is due to a wandering mind. If it is the latter, notice the nature of the thoughts. Awareness is key to discovering stress-related insomnia.

Mindful Breathing for Sleeplessness

Breathing is a technique that calms the central nervous system and relaxes the mind and body. However, there is a right and wrong way to breathe when the goal is relaxation. Chest breathing, also known as shallow breathing, can keep the body in a state of fight-or-flight, whereas diaphragmatic, or abdominal breathing, calms and relaxes the body.

The first step in learning to breathe is to align the breath in equal counts. Inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of four. Specifically focusing on inhaling deeply allows the abdomen to rise with the inhale and fall with the exhale, fully releasing all the air from the lungs. Mindful breathing is a powerful tool to for calming the body and reducing stimuli in the mind.

If focusing on “just the breath” seems boring, another technique is to picture a balloon inside the abdomen, giving it a calming color like blue or purple—on the inhale, the balloon expands, and on the exhale, the balloon contracts, releasing all of the air. The balloon gives the mind something to refocus on while retraining the body to breathe into the abdomen versus the chest. Repeat the balloon technique 10 to 15 times and enjoy relaxation, as well as optimal breathing.

Mindful breathing is a free and accessible tool made available wherever we are. It can be practiced anytime throughout the day to relax the body and calm the mind. The next time the wandering mind can’t sleep, try counting breath instead of sheep, and see how quickly the body relaxes into a comfortable slumber.

Briana Bragg is a wellness industry leader specializing in meditation and mindfulness, and a speaker, author and coach. She is the founder of Vacation of the Mind, a guided meditation company designed to be practical and welcoming. For more information, email Briana@VacationOfTheMind or visit


A Breath Exercise for Sleep

Dr. Andrew Weil, a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, with a healing-oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind and spirit, created an advanced mindful breathing exercise specifically designed to help people struggling with falling asleep. This technique has also been described as a natural tranquilizer, known to relax the body almost immediately. Begin practicing it right away with these easy-to-implement steps:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths